Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 8 December 2019

Ghosn's lawyers appeal a second time against his imprisonment

But latest push to have ousted Nissan chief released comes as France remains unwilling to step in

Carlos Ghosn is in a Japanese prison awaiting trial but there is little sympathy for the ex-Renault chief in France. Reuters
Carlos Ghosn is in a Japanese prison awaiting trial but there is little sympathy for the ex-Renault chief in France. Reuters

Carlos Ghosn's defence lawyers filed their second appeal against his ongoing detention to Japan's Supreme Court on Wednesday, Kyodo news reported, as the ousted chairman of Nissan seeks a formal explanation for his re-arrest.

Mr Ghosn's lead lawyer Junichiro Hironaka had already signalled plans to file the appeal a day earlier, at a press conference where he played a video recorded before his client's re-arrest.

In a highly unusual move, according to Reuters, Mr Ghosn was re-arrested on Thursday on fresh allegations that he used company funds to enrich himself by $5 million (Dh18.36m), after he had been released on bail for 30 days after paying $9m.

He already has been charged with under-reporting his Nissan salary for a decade and of temporarily transferring personal financial losses to Nissan's books.

Yet the global furore the Ghosn affair has sparked "hides in plain sight the pathetic state of Nissan's business and the value destruction that has continued since his arrest", said Anjani Trivedi, Bloomberg Opinion columnist.

Mr Ghosn can’t be absolved entirely, Ms Trivedi said. Hiroto Saikawa, who took on the role of co-CEO in November 2016 and sole CEO in 2017, was the ex-chairman’s protege and hand-picked successor. Mr Ghosn is responsible for that choice, no doubt. But the chief executive's performance has been poor.

In the two years since Mr Saikawa took over as sole CEO, Nissan’s stock price has fallen by more than 13 per cent. Margins have been eroded. Revenue growth has dropped sharply. Lofty targets set by Mr Saikawa (including an 8 per cent operating margin and 30 per cent sales growth over six years) have been missed by miles.

Sales in the US and China haven’t kept pace with peers. Even its luxury Infiniti brand, which was doing well, has started to disappoint. In China, where other Japanese car makers have gained ground in recent months, Nissan has stalled, Ms Trivedi points out. While the company has been offering sweeteners to buyers in the US, its campaign is one of the least effective in the industry (when measured as the ratio of market share to incentive spending). Meanwhile, Nissan has had to recall hundreds of thousands of cars and has admitted to falsifying emissions tests.

While Mr Ghosn may be being portrayed as a pariah by Japanese prosecutors and Nissan itself is happy to let the bad feeling remain, it might be thought the fallen car chief would be more lionised in France, where was once feted as the man who turned Renault into a global motor manufacturing force despite the economic downturn.

Once a largely regional company under the control of the French government, with a line-up of cars dogged by quality issues, Renault thrived and expanded under Mr Ghosn, who, until he was ousted recently, was the French firm's chairman. The auto maker's sales last year hit a record 3.9 million vehicles, with more than 50 per cent coming outside the stagnant European market. Profits grew 6.6 per cent in 2017; revenues were nearly €60 billion (Dh248.3bn), according to Automotive News.

Indeed, since the 65-year-old French-Lebanese-Brazilian businessman was taken back into custody last week in Japan, a month after being released on bail, there have been calls for the French government to intercede on his behalf.

But few tears have been shed for Mr Ghosn in France, where his bumper pay packages had long been a bone of contention and where the government is wary of being seen as meddling in Japan's affairs or of trying to obtain preferential treatment for a multi-millionaire, analysts said.

In an April 4 editorial French daily Le Monde praised Renault for scrapping some of Mr Ghosn's salary for 2018. "It's the least it could do," the paper wrote.

But that hasn't stopped the Ghosn legal team there from trying to rally support.

A lawyer for his family, Francois Zimeray, told France Info public radio on Monday that Mr Ghosn's lawyers had written to the Tokyo prosecutor's office to ask them "to stop torturing Carlos Ghosn".

"The word is not too strong," Mr Zimeray argued, accusing the judiciary in Japan, where suspects can be kept for 23 days without charge and are often kept behind bars until their trial, of "taking a person hostage until they crack and make a confession".

Jean-Yves Le Borgne, another of Mr Ghosn's lawyers, said on Tuesday that he did not believe Mr Ghosn would receive a fair trial in Japan and urged French President Emmanuel Macron to have him transferred to France.

Noting that under French law a person accused of committing a crime overseas can be tried in France, Mr Le Borgne told BFM television: "I believe that if we want Carlos Ghosn to benefit from a trial carried out in respectable conditions, in line with our values ... it would only be possible in France."

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian raised Mr Ghosn's fate with his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono during a G7 meeting in the French resort of Dinard.

While insisting that "France respects completely the sovereignty and independence of the Japanese judiciary", Mr Le Drian said he also reminded Mr Kono "of our attachment to the presumption of innocence and the full rights of consular protection".

But while it has rattled the business world, the Ghosn affair has left many in France unmoved.

For Akira Hashimoto, a lawyer enrolled at the bar both in Paris and Tokyo, Mr Le Drian's remarks smacked of "meddling".

"Mr Ghosn is not being badly treated," Mr Hashimoto told AFP, arguing that the Japanese judiciary, which has kept Japanese politicians in preventive custody for over a year, had, on the contrary, shown him mercy.

The leader of France's opposition Republicans party, Laurent Wauquiez, agreed that France should refrain from interfering.

"If he [Mr Ghosn] has a case to answer in Japan, he must be tried in Japan," Mr Wauquiez said.

It seems the French national motto "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" may not cover former automobile titans imprisoned in Japan.

Updated: April 10, 2019 02:03 PM

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